This article has been written by Kiranjeet Kaur. This article aims to provide readers with a deeper knowledge of crimes against public order in the US, with the help of relevant theories and their implications in the changing dynamics of crime related to public order in the country.      

Table of Contents


In America, crimes are broadly categorized based on the gravity and intensity of the committed offense. These categories include crimes against persons, crimes related to property, inchoate crimes, statutory crimes, financial crimes, and sexual crimes. Crimes against persons can be defined as those capable of causing damage to an individual both physically and mentally. Common crimes in this category include assault, aggravated battery, maliciously burning property, child abuse, domestic abuse, abduction, and rape. 

Crimes related to a person’s property can be defined as offenses that hinder an individual from fully using and enjoying their property by depriving them of it, causing hindrance. Common property-related crimes in America include theft crimes such as larceny, burglary, robbery, auto theft, and shoplifting. Sexual crimes encompass sexual assault, referring to any form of sexual association or conduct with an individual without their explicit consent. This category includes attempted rape, inappropriate touching or caressing, forcing the victim to engage in sexual activities like oral sex or penetration, and rape.

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Current trend of crime against public in the US

Currently, America has been experiencing a shift in crimes that are impacted by a series of events, including the death of George Perry Floyd, an African-American man, by a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the midterm elections, the worldwide outbreak of coronavirus, a rise in inflation, and the growing gun culture. These events are among many prominent reasons for the upsurge of violence in the country.  

However, surprisingly, the data provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) showcases a different scenario wherein it has been stated that there was a significant drop in the number of violent crimes reported, decreasing up to 49% between 1993 and 2019. This decline extends to other categories of crime as well, such as larceny (-68%), homicides (-47%), and aggravated assault (-43%). Crimes related to property were also reduced by up to 55%, along with a considerable decrease in crimes like housebreaking (-69%), motor vehicle theft (-64%) and robbery (-49%). 

Meanwhile, the data provided by the Bureau of Justice Statistics are even sheer from the numbers provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the numbers for violent crimes dropped up to 74% on the whole between 1993 and 2019, with a 71% decrease in property crimes across the states.

Surprisingly, public opinion in America does not conform with this data instead, many people feel that the numbers are escalating every day and that the nation has reached a state of chaos, even when the data shows a downward trend. As per reports, though, homicides are decreasing, but other prominent crimes are still disrupting American life.

One such crime is crimes against the public order in the USA. Crimes against public order are subject to significant controversy, as many legal scholars argue that legislating morality is inherently irrational. They question whether public order crimes should even be classified as crimes. Some believe that acts such as prostitution, gambling, and drug abuse, often deemed public order crimes, are primarily matters of public morality and should be regulated accordingly. The shifting landscape of crime trends further complicates the ongoing debate about the rationality of legalizing morality. This article aims to provide readers with a comprehensive understanding of crimes against public order in the US, the varying laws enacted by different states to address moral concerns, and their implications within the evolving dynamics of public order-related crime. It seeks to explore whether criminalizing actions based on moral grounds remains a reasonable approach amidst these evolving perspectives, serving as a perpetual topic of discussion within the nation for years.

What are crimes against public

Crimes against the public in the USA refer to criminal offenses that harm or endanger the general public, disrupt social order, or violate societal norms and laws. These crimes are characterized by the impact they have on the community as a whole, rather than just on individual victims. Crimes against the public are generally considered offenses against the well-being and safety of society at large. The legal system categorizes various offenses as crimes against the public to distinguish them from crimes that primarily harm individuals or private interests. These crimes may include acts like vandalism, rioting, quality of life crimes, group violence such as gang activity, vice crimes, and public intoxication. The prosecution and punishment of these crimes are aimed at maintaining public safety and preserving the order and harmony of society.

Public order crime as a facet of crime against public 

Public order crimes are a facet of crime against the public because they involve actions or behaviors that are perceived to disrupt public order and the general peace and stability of a community. Public order crimes in the USA are a category of criminal offenses that primarily target behaviors that are considered detrimental to the overall well-being and safety of society. These crimes are sometimes referred to as “victimless crimes” because they do not involve a direct, identifiable victim but are seen as harmful to the public as a whole.

What are public order crimes

Public order crimes are those crimes that stand in defiance with the day-to-day functioning of the society. Commonly known as public safety crimes, these crimes are held to be violative of certain usages, practices or standards which most of the people approve of or consider to be normal and are overall shared by the public in common. A person can be held liable for committing a public order crime if any of his gestures or demeanor have caused distress to the society, hampering the normal operations of society. Therefore, public order crimes do not require any recognizable victims.

Offensive behavior here acts as a key factor in holding someone liable for a public order crime. Offensive behavior refers to the behavior of an individual that is likely to hurt the feelings and cause a sense of revulsion or anger in a sane, reasonable person. Public order crimes are usually consistent across states, though local jurisdictions may have their own specific or supplementary regulations for such offenses.

Laws enforced for the purpose of regulating crimes against public order aim at achieving two primary goals. 

  • Firstly, their motive is to avert the individuals from engaging themselves in conduct which is considered to cause distress to the local community and hampers the normal operations of society. 
  • Secondly, a crime against public order aims to safeguard particular strata of the society. 

These laws are designed to maintain peace, safety, and the general well-being of the community, rather than protecting specific individuals. In the United States, laws related to teen curfews and restrictions on fireworks are good examples of such measures. Teen curfew laws typically impose restrictions on the hours during which individuals under a certain age (often minors) can be in public places or engage in various activities. The primary aim of these laws is to promote the safety and well-being of teenagers, as well as the community as a whole. Such laws are generally enacted to prevent or reduce problems associated with unsupervised youth gatherings during nighttime hours. These issues may include vandalism, gang-related activities, drug use, and other public disturbances. Laws regulating the use of fireworks are designed to maintain public safety, especially during times when fireworks are commonly used, such as holidays and celebrations. Fireworks have the potential to cause fires, injuries, and noise disturbances that can disrupt the peace and well-being of a community. These laws are not aimed at protecting specific individuals but rather at preventing the broader negative consequences that fireworks can bring. In densely populated areas, fireworks can pose significant risks, and their use can lead to accidents, injuries, and property damage. By restricting or regulating fireworks, authorities seek to safeguard the entire community, irrespective of individual interests in using fireworks.

Crimes against public order, moreover, refers to the conduct or behavior of individuals that normally does not comply with the usual standards that are expected by a group or society. Therefore, public order crimes are considered detrimental to a society’s progress and public good, affecting the day to day functioning of a society. 

Examples of public order crime 

Some of the common public order crimes in the U.S.A. include paraphilia, prostitution, pornography, alcohol and drug offenses, and disorderly conduct. Prostitution is the act of carrying out sexual activities in exchange for a payment, mostly to derive certain monetary benefits by indulging in such sexual acts. Paraphilia refers to an outlandish or atypical sexual behavior. Voyeurism is an offense which include an act of observing people engaged in sexual activities and obtaining sexual pleasure out of the same wherein a Voyeur is inclined more towards observing such an activity rather than the person who is actually performing such activity and pedophilia is a condition of being sexually attracted towards children. Whereas pornography focuses on nudity and sexual activities through books, videos, photographs and other possible mediums. These are all examples of public order crime. 

Broken windows policing in the US and its relevance with crimes against the public in the US

The broken windows policing approach is closely related to public order crimes in the US. Public order crimes can be defined as offenses that hinder or interfere with public peace and order, disrupting day-to-day societal operations. These crimes are not grievous in nature, but they can still have a significant impact on the well-being of the community. The broken windows theory posits that if minor offenses, such as crimes against public order, are ignored and go unreported promptly, they will cultivate an environment conducive to more serious criminal activities. The theory further asserts that the presence of visible disorder and neglect indicates a lack of control and enforcement of laws, which can encourage potential offenders to engage in criminal conduct. The primary objective behind employing the broken windows theory is to take strong measures and actions against these minor public order offenses to dissuade individuals from committing more serious crimes. By addressing minor infractions and maintaining a visible presence in communities to enforce order and address disorderly conduct, law enforcement aims to prevent the escalation of crime and create a safer environment for everyone.

Historical background of broken windows policing in the US

The broken windows theory was first put forward by James Q. Wilson and George Kelling in the year 1982, wherein the term ‘broken windows’ was used as an analogy alluding to the existence of societal disarray within neighborhoods. Their theory associates disorder and acts of incivility within a community with the eventual occurrence of grievous offenses. 

The proposed theory had a significant influence especially on the policing policy of the law enforcement department all through the 1990s and continues to be prominent in the 21st century. A remarkable implementation of the principles of the broken window theory was carried out in New York City under the guidance of the then Commissioner of Police, Mr. William Bratton. He staunchly supported the theory and believed that the aggressive approaches for the purpose of carrying out law enforcement adopted by the New York Police Department were instrumental in causing a substantial decline in crime rates throughout the city during the 1990s. During his tenure as Chief of New York City’s transit police from 1990 to 1992, Bratton effectively applied theory by deploying plainclothes officers to arrest individuals attempting to evade subway turnstiles by jumping over them. This proactive approach led to frequent arrests for such minor offenses, resulting in a significant decrease in various subway crimes. 

Later, as Commissioner of Police in 1994, Bratton proposed the “quality of life initiative,” inspired by the broken window theory. This initiative aimed to address issues like panhandling, disorderly conduct, public drinking, street prostitution, and aggressive solicitation of money from drivers in traffic. After Bratton’s resignation in 1996, there was a sharp decline in felonies and homicides in New York City, with data indicating a nearly 40 per cent reduction in overall felonies and a 50 per cent decrease in homicide crimes.

An analysis of the broken windows theory: 

The term broken windows here has been used as a metaphor. When a window within a building is broken and is not fixed immediately, it leads to a cascade effect where other windows in the same building will also deteriorate and break over time. This theory of Wison and Kelling’s suggests that when a broken window in a neighborhood remains unrepaired, it sends a signal to the community that there is no law and order to regulate such acts of vandalism, indicating a lack of concern or care from the residents or authorities. This perception of neglect may lead individuals to believe that they can engage in further destructive behavior without facing any repercussions. As a  result of this, deterioration of social order can pave the way for more severe crimes like theft and violence to thrive. 

Wilson and Kelling’s theory signifies the theme that when a broken window in a neighborhood remains unfixed for too long, it depicts the ignorance of society in addressing such seemingly small issues. If not promptly addressed, these problems can lead to dire consequences and disrupt the day-to-day functioning of society.

The theory mainly tries to explain that visible indications of disregard and negligence stimulate criminal behavior. Due to the failure in addressing such issues, it serves as a sign that this is a place where disorder is permitted to persist and be endured. For example, if the passer-by ignores the litter lying on the pavements, there is a likelihood that they might not be alarmed to see crimes related to drug dealing or burglary happening in their locality, and they would not even care to report such incidents to the police. 

Quality-of-life crimes 

Quality of life crimes can be described as those crimes that are not that significant of acts but have the potential to put at risk, and imperil the public order and safety of a society by stimulating a relevantly disturbed and dangerous environment. These are basically a set of relatively petty offenses or contraventions that might result in the deterioration of the overall well-being of people living in society. Individuals committing such crimes depict behaviors that might not be regarded as serious crimes but can be disturbing, exasperating, or dangerous to the well-being of individuals and communities, further hampering the normal operations of society. 

The local laws, law enforcement policies and community priorities have brought about a significant change in crimes related to quality of life, their regulation and implementation in the US. Many of the cities and local jurisdictions have adopted a proactive perspective while addressing such issues because in their opinion taking note of such petty offenses can aid in averting crimes which are more serious and notable in nature and can help in promoting better living conditions for the people in the society. Disorderly conduct, public intoxication, vandalism, loitering, graffiti, panhandling, vagrancy, littering, noise violations, public urination/defecation, trespassing and begging/sleeping in restricted areas are all examples of quality-of-life crimes in the US. 

Data regarding quality of life crime

Recent data indicates a significant rise in quality-of-life crimes in states where the MTA has escalated its surveillance efforts. Consequently, the agency is urging the New York Police Department to implement more stringent enforcement policies. Cigarette stubs, cups, dirty napkins, and all other kinds of litter are a common sight throughout New York City. Using the subways is no longer a pleasant experience, as they are often filled with trash, garbage, and unpleasant odor from the dumped trash in subways. The data from the MTA shows that there has been an increase of up to 44% in quality of life offenses which include littering, public urination, smoking, panhandling and fare evasion. 

Almost 64,588 summons have been issued as of August for these petty legal infractions, compared to 44,910 during the same time last year. Ivan Bates, an attorney based in Baltimore, has introduced a new citation initiative aimed at addressing low-level quality-of-life crimes that were not being handled under his predecessor. The new citation program allows defendants to complete community service hours even when charged with a first offense. Programs such as client counseling sessions, drug treatment, educational resources, and job training will be offered to the defendants.

Disorderly conduct

Disorderly conduct can be defined as an offense that entails any public action or demeanor that’s displeasing or objectionable, hindering other individuals from peacefully enjoying a public space enshrined under Article 250.2 of the Model Penal Code. The criminal offense of disorderly conduct has often been labelled as a “breach of the peace” crime. Moreover, as per law enforcement, out of all the arrests made for the offense of disorderly conduct, a notable number of them involve elements of alcohol and drugs. Conviction for a disorderly offense is punishable by 6 months of imprisonment, a fine of 1000$, or both, and there are chances of an increase in penalty if convicted of repeated disorderly conduct charges.

Actions classified as disorderly conduct

Inappropriate and unethical sexual behavior

  • Insisting or involving another person to engage themselves in lascivious or unethical conduct in a public sphere or a sphere that’s commonly accessible to the general public.
  • Getting involved in prostitution or importunating others to engage themselves in acts of prostitution.
  • Intercepting individuals in public spaces or in localities accessible to the general public for the purpose of begging or asking for money or contributions.
  • Lingering around public urinations with an intention of getting engaged in lascivious acts or importunating others into such lascivious and illicit conduct. 
  • Intruding a person’s privacy, such as peeking or filming them in restrooms or changing rooms for the purpose of obtaining sexual pleasure and delectation. 

Illegal dwelling or lingering

Dwelling in a public or a private building, locality or formation without the owner’s consent for the same. 

Picking up fights in public and using discourteous words     

Picking up fights in public places or abetting someone to a brawl is a crime, especially in the American state of California or making loud noises without any reason, with the intention of pestering others, and using discourteous words for others in public areas, which have a tendency to induce people to choose violence, is also considered to be a crime in California.


Rioting is a form of misconduct involving the use of illegitimate force in public. Speaking about the state of California, rioting is regulated and administered by Section 404 of the California Penal Code. People convicted of being involved in such misconduct can be sentenced to six months behind bars or can be fined 1000$, or both. Actions can be taken against individuals participating in riots through civil court proceedings to claim monetary losses or damages caused by their personal misconduct while participating in riots. 

Breach of peace on school premises  

Under Section 415 of the California Penal Code (“Code”), any person who is not a student and is found picking fights, causing disturbance to others by making loud noises without any valid reason, or using discourteous words while on campus premises is considered to have committed a crime. The punishment for this misconduct includes a fine of 400$ and imprisonment for a maximum of ninety days or both, with the possibility of increased penalties if found guilty of such misdemeanor repeatedly.

Repudiating to scatter 

When a group of people comes together or mobilizes others to join them with the intention of hampering the peace, they are considered to have committed a crime. Refusing to scatter is a petty crime for which the accused can be held liable to pay damages as compensation or perform acts of social welfare for the damage caused.  

Public intoxication

Being under the influence of liquor and other administered drugs and narcotic substances, or an amalgamation of both alcohol and drugs, can lead to a point where a person is not mindful of their own actions and surroundings. This could impede others from peacefully using public spheres while under the influence of such intoxication. Such a crime is categorized as a crime against the public.

Public drunkenness

A majority of the states and localities in the US make it illegal to possess or consume an open container of alcohol in public places like pavements, parks, beaches and streets, while 24 out of 50 states do not have laws criminalizing public consumption of alcohol. According to a report published by the Post, every year in America, a copious amount of the population has been issued formal notices and even apprehended for violating open container laws. These laws prohibit the possession as well as the consumption of alcohol in those open containers in public spheres. “Public areas” in this context, specifically refers to public spheres like pavements, parks, and beaches etc. Open container laws are not applicable in places like a sports stadium, concert arenas, bars, and restaurants since these establishments are privately owned and are accessible to the general public.

The primary motive behind Possession of Open Container of Alcohol (POCA)  laws is to reduce the cases of public drunkenness, especially to prevent people from driving after excessive boozing. 

Laws related to public drunkenness

There does not exist a federal law for possession of open containers of alcohol in the US, however, they are solely implemented at the local and state levels. Consequently, there is no uniformity in these laws across different states or counties. 

  • In Washington D.C. consuming liquor or possessing an open container of liquor in any of the public spaces like streets, passageways, parks, pavements, or parking lots is strictly prohibited. Stringent actions are taken against those who are selling alcohol without a license in Washington D.C. In D.C. the maximum penalty for the violation of Possession of Open Container of Alcohol laws is imprisonment for a period of sixty days or a fine of 500$ and according to section 25-1001 of the Code of District of Columbia, people found liable for the commission of the offense have to make a mandatory payment of 50$ to 250$ to the Victims of Violent Crime Compensation Fund. 
  • In New York City, individuals who are found violating the Possession of Open Container of Alcohol laws are penalized with a petty amount of 25$ which can also be paid via email.
  • On the contrary, in states like Hawaii and New Mexico, an open container violation can result in individuals being sentenced to jail for a period of six months or being ticketed up to 1,000$. 
  • Similarly, in the year 2012, the city council of Santa Fe, a city in New Mexico, America made a unanimous decision to impose a ban on the possession of open containers of alcohol in the public sphere, or those who did not have a permit to serve or sell alcohol. This decision was made after an increase in cases of public intoxication and alcohol-related casualties were reported.
  • At the other extreme, in the state of Mississippi, it is permissible for a driver of a vehicle to consume liquor, but at the same time, the driver’s blood ethanol concentration shouldn’t exceed 0.08 percent. This implies that in Mississippi a driver of a vehicle is allowed to drink but is not allowed to drive under the influence, nor is the driver allowed to consume any alcoholic drinks in public spheres. 
  • Many places in America, such as Butte, Montana, Savannah, Georgia, and other cities like New Orleans and Las Vegas, are known for their intense party culture and do not have any written laws restricting the consumption of alcohol in public spaces. Tourists visiting these cities are free to consume liquor in public areas like beaches, parks, sidewalks and streets. 

Vagrancy and Loitering   

Vagrancy as a criminal concept has a long historical background within the American legal system, with its origins tracing back to 16th-century England. Colonists brought these vagrancy laws to the new world, and over time, they underwent numerous changes, expanding their scope to cover various behaviors such as destitution, idleness, immorality, iniquity, intoxication, lasciviousness, and skepticism. 

The primary objective of these laws was to prevent individuals from loitering without a legitimate purpose. Some local jurisdictions even went so far as to separately criminalize unlawful loitering. As time passed, vagrancy laws evolved into a means of targeting and controlling social groups deemed undesirable or “out of place” rather than solely addressing minor offenses. In essence, these vagrancy laws served as a tool for maintaining social order and reinforcing hierarchical structures within American society. Their implementation evolved as a response to perceived challenges to the societal structure. They targeted various groups such as labor rights advocates, outspoken radicals, ethnic and religious minorities, civil rights activists, the unemployed, and those in extreme poverty. In the mid-20th century, numerous arrests occurred due to violations of vagrancy laws. Over a span of just two decades, the long-standing vagrancy crime, which had remained unchallenged for centuries, underwent a significant change. The social changes of the 1960s led to a unified movement against vagrancy laws, ultimately resulting in their nullification by the US Supreme Court in 1972. This represented a profound shift in how vagrancy was perceived and treated as a criminal offense.

Current status of vagrancy laws

The government has no personal interest in penalizing individuals, nor does it intend to target specific social groups like the impoverished or homeless. However, the presence of such transient and beggar populations in a certain area can influence public perceptions of law enforcement. Therefore, vagrancy laws may vary from state to state, but each local jurisdiction has its own regulations punishing vagrancy and unlawful loitering. These laws can be subject to constitutional scrutiny if they are found to be vague, overly broad, or discriminatory. Traditionally, vagrancy statutes were created to give law enforcement significant discretion in arresting unemployed individuals, speculators, drug addicts, alcoholics, and those who frequented places associated with disreputable activities. These laws aimed to deter individuals from engaging in criminal activities or disrupting the peace and safety of a specific area or community.

In 1972, the US Supreme Court made a significant ruling in the case of Papachristou v. City of Jacksonville (405 U.S.156), overturning a Florida state law that criminalized vagrancy. The court deemed the law vague and unconstitutional, violating the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. This landmark decision prompted other states to reevaluate and amend similar vagrancy laws. The Model Penal Code was subsequently established, defining offenses like public intoxication and unlawful lingering. The Supreme Court’s precedent emphasized that punishing the unemployed (Edwards v. California, 1941) or passing ambiguous laws (City of Chicago v. Morales, 2011) is unconstitutional. Furthermore, laws must provide law enforcement with reliable information and identification (Kolender v. Lawson, 2011). The Model Penal Code restricts lingering or prowling in a way that deviates from typical behavior and causes concern for public safety or property.

Crimes targeting group conduct

“Crimes targeting group conduct” is a comprehensive term inclusive of various criminal activities that particularly target a specific group of people sharing common attributes, deportment, set of beliefs or an ideology. These crimes often aim to intimidate, discriminate against, or harm individuals within a specific group. Gang-related crimes, hate crimes, rioting and mob violence are some of the common crimes targeting group Conduct in the US.

Criminal organizations engaged in activities like illegal assembly with the intention to disturb public peace, involvement in riots, or formation of criminal gangs have the potential to escalate violence and should face consequences. Legislation aiming to define and punish these group conduct offenses may face constitutional scrutiny, similar to laws addressing quality of life crimes in the country. Moreover, the escalating violence caused by criminal gangs in various states is a significant concern, prompting a range of criminal and civil responses to tackle this issue. 

The subsequent section elaborates on the commonly committed crimes related to group conduct within the states.

Refusing to disperse and unlawful assembly 

The act of unlawful assembly can be elucidated as an underlying offense that leads to the commission of a riot. However, it’s important to acknowledge that individuals in the United States have the right to peaceful assembly, protected by the First Amendment.

Essential components of unlawful assembly are, 

  • An assembly of 2 or more people 
  • criminal act; and
  • specific intent or purposely to commit an unlawful act

Thus, unlawful assembly is a gathering or assembling of a group of people with a premeditated intention to deliberately disturb the public peace or engage in other illegal acts or riots. Different jurisdictions have different requirements concerning the attendant circumstance (accessory fact or evidence) for unlawful assembly and failure to disperse, which is typically determined by the size of the group involved. Commonly observed group minimums include two, three, or five individuals. For a group to be held liable for the act of unlawful assembly under the Model Penal Code, it has to have a minimum of three or more members (Model Penal Code section 250.1(2)).

In certain jurisdictions and the Model Penal Code, refusing to disperse is considered a criminal activity and is punishable under the law, especially when a group of people assemble with the intention to deliberately disturb public peace by engaging in disorderly conduct, causing significant harm, or creating a sense of alarm, and fails to disperse. The malice prepense required for the offense of failure to disperse can be either general or knowingly.


Riots can happen when a gathering becomes illegal and the situation escalates without prior planning. This can occur suddenly, without any premeditation or clear cause. Engaging in violent actions, whether breaking the law or causing a disturbance while technically following the law, is a significant factor in defining riots in numerous legal systems. In line with Section 250.1 of the Model Penal Code, a group participating in disorderly behavior can be charged with a riot and face legal consequences.

Essentials for committing a riot 

The criteria for charging an individual with inciting a riot can vary among different US jurisdictions. One key factor which is the deliberate intent or planning/premeditation of a wrongful act, may not be consistent across states. Various elements are taken into account when determining culpability for inciting a riot, such as- 

  •  the perpetrator’s intent to assist or promote a felony or misdemeanor; 
  • knowledge of someone planning to use lethal weapons, and; 
  • the aim to compel specific actions or prohibit others. 

Riots may be deemed a ‘No Fault Liability’ offense in certain places. In many jurisdictions, defendants must be conclusively and legally proven to be directly responsible for causing harm, instigating public fear, or posing a potential risk of such disruption. The definitions of attendant circumstances related to riots, especially concerning group size, differ across jurisdictions. Minimum group sizes commonly range from two to six individuals. According to Section 250.1(2) of the Model Penal Code, a group must have a minimum of three or more members to be held accountable for participating or initiating a riot. Riots can be classified as misconduct or a felony if lethal weapons or firearms are used, or if there is property damage or physical harm to individuals in addition to the defendant. Under the Model Penal Code, riots are considered third-degree felonies.

Criminal gangs  

To prevent potential First Amendment challenges and issues of ambiguity and overbreadth, it’s vital for the laws concerning criminal gangs in a jurisdiction to clearly define what constitutes a criminal gang, its members, and the criteria for being considered a gang member. This is because criminal gang affiliation or gang association requires a group of people gathering together, which, if conducted with tranquillity, is safeguarded under the First Amendment. 

According to the federal statute, a criminal gang is described as a functioning organization, club, confederation, or alliance consisting of at least five individuals who share a mutual objective of engaging in specific criminal offenses or misconduct. These offenses are particularly concerning when they affect interregional or overseas trade. According to federal statute, a criminal gang member is someone who becomes associated with a criminal street gang, having prior knowledge of the gang’s involvement in the commission of recurrent crimes, or an individual who further contemplates carrying out or encouraging the criminal activities of the criminal gang. 

Identification of gang member

The federal definition of gang as used by the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement defines a criminal street gang as an association of three or more individuals who share a common gang name, distinguishable sign, symbol, tattoo, way of dressing, and hand gestures. These individuals must have perpetrated or attempted to perpetrate certain crimes in the interest of the gang with whom they are associated. 

The I8 U.S. Code  Section 521 provides a comprehensive set of criteria to identify individuals as members of a criminal gang. This mainly includes defining specific characteristics and actions that qualify an individual as a member of such a gang. Many of the states have defined a criminal gang member as someone who engages himself in a series of planned criminal acts occurring over a substantial period of time and someone who meets with the underlying criteria: 

  • associates himself voluntarily with a gang as its member; 
  • is recognized as a gang member; 
  • inhabiting or frequently paying visits to a specific gang’s territory and adopts their manner of dressing, hand gestures, or tattoos; 
  • having an affiliation with fellow gang members; 
  • The individual has been apprehended multiple times while being accompanied by known gang members, engaging in activities that align with gang-related conduct.

Punishment for associating with criminal street gangs

Section 521 of the U.S. Code provides for a penalty which can be extended to a maximum of 10 years for a member having an association with a criminal gang with the motive of promoting the gang’s interests or to enhance their standing within the gang. Such enhancement of punishment is an addition to the penalty for the original offense. Such sentencing enhancement can be imposed on gang members under the conditions defined in Section 521 of the 18 U.S. Code.

  • The accused had the motive of promoting the gang’s interest by contributing to the commission of a felony to further the activity of such a criminal street gang. 
  • The accused contributes to the gang by committing a drug crime to enhance their standing within the gang.
  • The accused engaged in a conspiracy to commit an offense against the state.
  • The accused engages in criminal activities using coercion or violence to uphold their status within the gang.
  • The accused commits additional felony offenses at the state or federal level with a significant possibility of employing physical force during the commission of these crimes.
  • The accused has a previous conviction for either a federal or state offense linked to drugs or serious felonies within the last five years.

Vice crimes 

A vice is an undesirable aspect of one’s character, while a virtue is a desirable and commendable personal quality that contrasts with a vice. For example, honesty is a virtue, while dishonesty is a vice. Vices encompass various negative character traits such as greed, anger, resentment, craving, greediness, arrogance, and laziness. Conversely, virtues include positive traits like loyalty, courage, honesty, compassion, humility, kindness, and self-discipline. Vice crimes are outlined in the Model Penal Code, which encompasses activities related to homosexuality and deviance (Model Penal Code section 251.1).

It’s important to note that a vice is not the same as an action; an action like smoking is a result of a vice, not the vice itself. In the case of someone like Robert saying, “Smoking cigarettes is my biggest vice,” smoking is an action resulting from a character flaw, which in this case is a weakness of will. Robert acknowledges this flaw, indicating that he realizes smoking is harmful to his health. If Robert can manage and overcome this weakness of will, he would be able to resist the desire to smoke cigarettes.

Drug crimes

In the USA, a drug crime refers to any illegal activity related to controlled substances, including possession, distribution, manufacture, cultivation, trafficking, and other offenses involving drugs that are prohibited by federal or state laws. The Controlled Substances Act (CSA), 1971 is the primary federal law that governs drug crimes in the United States. It categorizes drugs into schedules based on their potential for abuse, medical uses, and safety considerations. Schedule I drugs are considered the most dangerous and have a high potential for abuse, while Schedule V drugs are considered the least dangerous. 

Drug trafficking, according to federal law (Title 21, Section 841), refers to the illegal act of knowingly producing, distributing, dispensing, or possessing with the intention to produce, distribute, or dispense controlled substances. 

Classification of drug possession

Drug possession is broadly classified into actual possession and constructive possession. Actual possession refers to drugs found on the person or very close by, while constructive possession indicates control or influence over the drugs. In cases of constructive possession, joint liability can be imposed, holding multiple parties responsible. Simple possession typically requires a basic level of intent or awareness, while possession with intent to distribute necessitates a clear and deliberate intention. Marijuana possession charges often hinge on the quantity in possession.

Exception for drug use

All states in the USA, along with the federal government, have outlawed the production, cultivation, possession, and trade of drugs explicitly listed in their respective drug schedules. However, there are exemptions for drugs intended solely for medical and pharmaceutical purposes, as well as research and analysis. In the 2011 case of Robinson v. California, it was established that making drug addiction a criminal offense in itself would be unjust. While it’s constitutionally acceptable to penalize criminal actions linked to substance abuse, irrespective of the challenges, drug abusers may encounter in controlling drug-related criminal conduct.

Punishment for drug crime

According to  21 USC  Section 844, individuals found guilty of unlawfully possessing controlled substances can be sentenced to a maximum of one year in jail and a mandatory fine of at least $1,000 for the first offense. For a second offense, the penalty involves a minimum of 15 days and a maximum of two years in prison, along with a mandatory fine of at least $2,500. Subsequent convictions carry a sentence ranging from a minimum of 90 days to a maximum of three years in prison, with a required fine of at least $5,000. Individuals can face civil fines of up to $10,000 for having controlled substances, regardless of whether criminal charges are pursued. Additionally, those convicted of possession may be required to pay for the reasonable expenses related to investigating and prosecuting the offense. The penalties for possessing drugs with the intent to distribute are potentially more severe. 

Factors influencing extent of penalties for drug crime

Many jurisdictions classify the production of controlled substances as a serious offense, often resulting in felony charges. Severe penalties are applied for using deadly weapons during the commission of crimes or operating covert laboratories to manufacture drugs. Cultivating marijuana in the United States is generally categorized as a misdemeanor or felony based on the amount cultivated. 

In many legal systems, the possession of marijuana, specifically in quantities less than an ounce, often incurs less severe penalties compared to other substances categorized as controlled drugs. Engaging in the trading, dispensing, or smuggling of scheduled controlled substances is deemed a felony offense. Individuals convicted of selling, distributing, or trafficking such drugs may face harsh repercussions, especially if the substances are classified in higher schedules. More stringent penalties are enforced for selling controlled substances to minors, selling drugs near school premises, or to students. Recidivists caught using a scheduled controlled substance or being under its influence are typically charged with misdemeanors and can face significant penalties.

Charges related to possession of controlled substances depend on three key factors: 

  • the quantity of drugs;
  • the drug’s classification in the schedule, and;
  • whether the possession is for personal use or distribution. 

Penalties range from misdemeanors for simple possession to serious criminal charges for possession with the intent to distribute. 


Prostitution in America refers to the exchange of sexual services for money or goods. It typically involves an individual, often referred to as a sex worker or prostitute, providing sexual acts or companionship in exchange for payment. The legality of prostitution varies from state to state in the United States, as it is regulated at the state and local levels rather than the federal level. Some states and jurisdictions have legalized or decriminalized prostitution, while others consider it a criminal offense. The American state of Nevada does not consider prostitution to be a criminal offense, unlike other states in America that criminalize prostitution. However, prostitution in Nevada can only be carried out at licensed brothels and is strictly regulated by the guidelines provided under Section 201.352 of the Nevada Revised Statutes for crimes against public decency and good morals. 

The element of actus reus in convicting someone for the offense of prostitution is not uniform across jurisdictions and states in America. Many jurisdictional statutes define prostitution as an act that involves offering oneself and voluntarily consenting to engage in any kind of sexual act for monetary benefits, property or any tangible good with a monetary value attached to it. An individual who is offering to participate, and the person willingly consenting to partake in any form of a sexual act, together constitute the act of prostitution. Therefore, both a prostitute and their clientele can be indicted and can be sent down for prosecution in most of the states in America. 

Section 251.1(1) of the Model Penal Code criminalizes the act of unlawfully lingering in any public areas or spaces open to public usage with the intention and willingness of being hired to engage in sexual conduct. This provision also aims to criminalize individuals operating within a brothel who engage in sexual conduct as a business. The sexual acts enumerated in legislation that makes prostitution an offense commonly include sexual intercourse, touching, and caressing of sexual organs for sexual pleasure. Section 251.1 of the Model Penal Code also regulates sexual indulgence between homosexuals and sexual deviant conduct. The necessary criminal intent for prostitution varies between jurisdictions, with either strict liability, as seen in the N.Y. Penal Law section 230.00 (2011), or a mental state of awareness or intention, as observed in most regions such as N.M. Stat. Section 30-9-2 (2011)

The Model Penal Code emphasizes the defendant’s deliberate intention if they have been lingering to engage in prostitution, or strict liability is established for individuals operating within a brothel, engaging in prostitution as a business. Prostitution is often categorized as a misdemeanor; however, an offender can be incarcerated with an extended sentence, especially for those who are habitual criminals and for instances of prostitution taking place in proximity to school premises, or for clients who solicit prostitutes that are minors. Section 251.1(1) of the Model Penal Code categorizes prostitution as a minor legal infraction. 

Pimping and Pandering

Other crimes analogous to the crime of prostitution are pimping and pandering. The specific elements of these offenses may vary based on the jurisdiction, but in general, pimping involves the criminal act of receiving anything which has a monetary value attached to it from a prostitute with the intention of knowing that it was earned through prostitution. Pimping can be classified as either a misdemeanor or a felony (N.M. Stat. Section 30-9-4.1, 2011), and the severity of the charge can increase if acts of intimidation or force are used to coerce prostitution (N.Y. Penal Law section 230.33, 2011), or if the involved prostitute is a minor (N.Y. Penal Law Section 230.32, 2011). 

Pandering can be described as an act of soliciting, convincing, or persuading someone to indulge themselves in prostitution with the motive to help or assist the person in doing so. Many people incorrectly consider pimping and pandering to be similar offenses, though a person is held accountable for both, if convicted. However, it should be noted that pimping and pandering are two distinct offenses, even though both are associated with and encourage prostitution. Pandering is often categorized as a felony. However, an individual can face incarceration with an extended sentence if such an act takes place near educational institutions or schools. 

The Model Penal Code provides a comprehensive list of behaviors related to prostitution that are subject to heavy penalties and punishments. These behaviors include endorsing prostitution, persuading and assisting individuals in prostitution, and coercing individuals to become or remain a prostitute (Model Penal Code section 251.1(2)(c)). The Model Penal Code classifies these acts of encouraging prostitution as a third-degree felony (Model Penal Code section 251.1(3)(a)).

Misdemeanor offenses

Misdemeanors are not as serious as felonies; the latter involves committing significantly more serious offenses, such as murder. Misdemeanor offenses commonly include various traffic violations and non-violent offenses. Misdemeanor crimes can be differentiated from felonies based on the jail sentence an individual could be awarded by a  criminal court judge to serve in a county jail. In this case, the maximum time period for which an individual could be incarcerated if convicted of any misdemeanor is one year in a county jail. 

While not as serious as felonies, misdemeanors are still violations of the law, and individuals accused of such offenses can face additional penalties and significant consequences. For instance, a DUI  (driving under the influence) charge can result in the defendant being deprived of their day-to-day driving privileges for months on a first conviction but can potentially escalate with subsequent convictions. An individual accused of misdemeanor crime can still own lethal weapons, contest for government positions, and register for professional licenses. 

Misdemeanor offenses in Florida  

Misdemeanour offenses in the state of Florida are classified into two categories. Firstly, there’s the second-degree misdemeanor, which is the least serious in nature. A person found guilty of a second-degree misdemeanor may be penalized with a fine of $500 or may be ordered to serve a jail sentence for a period of sixty days. Additionally, a probation period of six months can also be imposed, which means the judge might order a jail sentence of sixty days but can temporarily suspend the sentence for six months, contingent on the condition that the convict must not commit the same crime again. If the accused fails to abide by this condition, then they would need to fulfil all or a portion of the suspended sentence. The commission of any misdemeanor offenses that have not been graded or  specifically classified will be categorised as a second-degree misdemeanor crimes. Some common second-degree misdemeanor crimes include petty theft, disorderly conduct, unlawful lingering, driving with an invalid license, and  criminal mischief if damage caused is under $200.

The degree of offenses covered under the first-degree misdemeanors is more serious in nature compared to the offenses classified under second-degree misdemeanors. A defendant can be sentenced to imprisonment for a duration of one year in a county jail and can be penalized with a hefty fine of $1,000. Probation may be imposed for up to one year. Some common first-degree misdemeanor crimes include DUI (driving under the influence), retail theft of goods under $300, reckless endangerment, possessing marijuana of less than 20 grams in quantity, a second offense of petty theft, public nudity, possession of drug paraphernalia, solicitation, unlawful intrusion, spousal abuse or domestic violence.

In many misdemeanor cases, especially those involving the possession of controlled substances or first-time offenses (which refers to a criminal charge against an offender who has not been previously convicted of a similar crime), the criminal court or the presiding judge has the discretion to withhold the final verdict, following pleas of guilty, no contest, or a finding of guilt after a trial. If the indictment is withheld, the defendant is expected to comply with court-ordered programs and avoid reoffending for a specific duration, at least for a period of one year. If the defendant fails to meet these conditions, the charges for conviction can be reinstated, and the individual must serve the sentence as mandated. The punishment for the commission of any misdemeanor crime may result in incarceration, and a period of probation can also be imposed. If not incarcerated, a defendant may be compelled to contribute to social welfare, pay a fine, provide compensation to the injured party as damages, undergo client counseling, or participate in a court-sanctioned program related to anger management, domestic violence, or substance misuse. However, it should be noted that a person convicted of a DUI is not eligible for the retention of adjudication. 

Misdemeanor offenses in Pennsylvania  

Under Pennsylvania’s codified laws, a misdemeanor is considered a category of a criminal offense. An individual convicted of a misdemeanor crime in Pennsylvania can be sentenced to jail for a period of up to five years, along with a hefty fine of $10,000, although aggravated and escalated charges could extend this sentence further. 

Classification of misdemeanor offenses

The Pennsylvania consolidated Statutes classify misdemeanor offenses into three categories: first-degree, second- degree, and third-degree offenses, based on the nature and severity of the committed offense. There are quite a few offenses graded as misdemeanor offenses in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The nature and severity of misdemeanors can vary, ranging from criminally negligent homicide to possessing a forged ID. These offenses are  graded as first-degree, second-degree, or a third-degree misdemeanors based on their severity.

  • The commission of a first-degree misdemeanor also commonly known as M1, can result in imprisonment up to five years or a hefty penalty of $10,000. Some of the common M1 offenses in Pennsylvania include unlawful intrusion, public nudity involving juveniles, counterfeiting, solicitation of prostitution, possession of lethal weapons on the school premises, involuntary manslaughter etc. 
  • Committing a second-degree misdemeanor, commonly referred to as an M2, can lead to imprisonment for up to two years or a significant penalty of $5,000. Some of the common M2 offenses in Pennsylvania include strangulation, institutional vandalism, witness retaliation, prostitution, falsification of evidence or manipulation of evidence, insulting the national flag, and simple assault are all examples of M2 misdemeanor offenses.
  • Committing a third-degree misdemeanor, commonly referred to as an M3, can lead to imprisonment for up to one year or a significant penalty of $2,500. Some of the common M3 offenses in Pennsylvania include disorderly conduct, invasion of piracy, animal neglect, tampering with fire hydrants, theft under $50, online stalking, obstructing emergency services, desecration are all examples of M3 misdemeanor offenses. 

Misdemeanor offenses in Texas 

Class C misdemeanor crimes

In the state of Texas, Class C misdemeanor crimes are classified as petty legal infractions, being the least serious of all the crimes for which a person can be indicted in Texas. When charged with a Class C misdemeanor, an individual does not need to serve any jail sentence for the commission of said misdemeanor. Nevertheless, they can be subjected to a substantial fine of up to $500, in addition to other legal expenses. Furthermore, this can encumber individuals with a persistent criminal record that has the potential to impact them over an extended period of time. Getting charged with a Class C misdemeanor does not saddle individuals with any kind of legal incapacity or detriment according to the (Tex. Penal Code Ann. §§ 12.03(3)(c) (2019)) statute. Any misdemeanor that is not graded as Class C misdemeanor or does not make any mention of the punishment and penalty is to be classified as a Class C misdemeanor. 

In certain circumstances an individual charged with Class C misdemeanors can plead guilty, or can plead for a no-contest plea without expressly admitting guilt, or can simply take the recourse of a deferred adjudication, which means  that a final judgment is not passed or entered while the individual serves a term of probation. The duration and the conditions of an individual’s probation will depend on the allegations brought against them. Apart from scheduled appointments with the probation officer, the defendant has to undergo certain narco-analysis tests, maintain employment, and not associate with the people or places where the offense was initially committed by the defendant. All of these conditions need to be fulfilled by the defendant for probation. 

Charges of Class C misdemeanors can have some serious follow-up consequences, as a conviction can result in a criminal record associated with your name. Such an indictment can also become part of the public records and may lead to background examinations by potential employers at the organization the defendant intends to join or work for, landlords, loan officers, colleges or university enrollment offices, and others. While a  Class C misdemeanor  may appear to be a minor offense, it can still lead to the automatic dismissal of job applicants with a criminal history or record in their past. There is a possibility that a defendant’s criminal record can be obliterated if the defendant fulfills certain parameters, such as not being charged for the same offense again, avoiding supplementary charges, or having been convicted for a misdemeanor as a minor. Obtaining an expungement can be a complicated process, requiring many supporting documents for the defendant’s petition for an expungement. 

Class A and B misdemeanors

Class A and B misdemeanors are not minor legal offenses as that of Class C misdemeanors but are grave minor offenses that can inflict heavy penalties along with legal expenses and even a jail sentence. Infractions are classified as petty criminal offenses in Texas. For example, crosswalk violations, non-compliance with parking laws, public breach of peace, or nuisance actions are all treated as infractions. Individuals convicted of any of the aforementioned infractions can be compelled to contribute to social welfare as restitution or can be heavily penalised. Individuals found guilty of committing infractions are usually not sentenced to jail based on the facts and circumstances of each case.

Examples of misdemeanors in Texas

Non-compliance with traffic laws and regulations leading to the ticketing of individuals, excluding parking tickets, is graded as a Class C misdemeanor in the state of Texas. Some of the other common Class C misdemeanors include disorderly conduct,  wagering, public drunkenness, possession of alcohol or tobacco by a juvenile, drunk driving as a juvenile, possessing alcoholic beverages in a motor vehicle, possession of drug equipment or tools, bail jumping, leaving a child alone inside a vehicle, and wrongful use of laser pens and pointers.

Extended punishment for misdemeanor in Texas

In some circumstances, a Class C misdemeanor indictment can be extended implying an escalation in penalties if a conviction occurs. An individual can be inflicted with extended Class C misdemeanor charges if:

  • An individual charged with disorderly behavior or public drunkenness or has been held guilty of commission of either offense three times in the preceding two years.
  • If the crime is carried out by an individual based on feelings of bigotry or preconception against somebody else.
  • Usage of scheduled drugs in committing or facilitating the crime by an individual.

When criminal charges are elevated, the penalties applicable to the immediately higher crime classification come into play. Consequently, an extended Class C misdemeanor accusation is treated and penalized as a Class B misdemeanor. This can lead to the potential outcomes outlined below: 

  • Hefty fine payable up to 2,000$
  • Approximately 6 months (180) days of sentence in jail
  • Can be punished with both penalty and sentence in jail

Misdemeanor offenses in California  

In the state of California, an individual found guilty of a misdemeanor crime is not subject to serving a sentence in a California state prison, as a misdemeanor crime is treated as a less serious offense than a felony. Misdemeanour cases are typically recorded by either the Los Angeles City Attorney or the District Attorney’s Office, depending on the precise location where the crime was committed. After an arrest has been made for the commission of a misdemeanor crime in California, the case will progress through the normal stages as it usually happens in the procedure for criminal cases, including the arrangement, pre-litigation, bail hearing, and jury or bench trial. However, it is observed that most arrests made in misdemeanor crime cases do not make it to the trial stage. 

An individual convicted of a misdemeanor will not result in his losing voting rights or his right to own or possess a lethal weapon, unless the indictment was related to domestic violence. However, a misdemeanor indictment may lead to various forms of punitive measures for an individual who holds a professional authorization or a license, especially  professionals  like a doctor, teachers, or lawyers. It’s important to note that certain misdemeanor indictments can come with compulsory conditions. For example, if found guilty of violating Penal Code 314, which involves public nudity, an accused might be compelled to register as a sex offender according to Penal Code 290. Additionally, the majority of misdemeanor convictions in California can be eliminated from an accused person’s records  under Penal Code 1203.4 if they successfully fulfil their probation.   

Common misdemeanor crime in California

Some of the common misdemeanor crimes in the state of California are: Public lewdness (Penal Code 314), larceny (Penal Code 484(a)), shoplifting or retail theft (Penal Code 459.5), violation of restraining order (Penal Code 273.6), Breaching the peace (Penal Code 415), unlawful intrusion (Penal Code 602), disorderly conduct (Penal Code 647), prostitution (Penal Code 647(b)), public drunkenness (Penal Code 647(f)), fencing (Penal Code 496), drunk driving (Vehicle code 23152), reckless endangerment (Vehicle Code 32103), driving on suspended licence (Vehicle Code 14601), possession of scheduled controlled substance Health and Safety Code 11350).

Punishment for misdemeanor crime in California

The individual convicted of a misdemeanor crime can be sentenced to a maximum duration of one year in a county jail and can be penalised with a hefty fine of $1,000. In the case of an aggravated misdemeanor, the punishment can be extended to up to one year in a county jail, along with a penalty of $1,000 or more. Defendants found guilty of misdemeanor crimes may be granted probation for three to five years. 

The usual punishment for the commission of a misdemeanor crime is imprisonment up to one year in county jail and/or a hefty fine of $1,000. However, until there exists a provision in the law, any offense graded as a misdemeanor will have to serve a sentence in county jail for a time period of six months.

Most misdemeanor punishments provide only for a probation, a fine or compelling the defendant to contribute to social welfare. There are certain misdemeanors that have penalties up to $2,000. Anyone charged with a misdemeanor is usually given probation and must comply with certain conditions laid down by the criminal court judge, including incarceration, court fines or penalties, social welfare, client counseling, substance abuse education, electronic monitoring, and compensatory damages. 

State-wise analysis 

Most of the states in America have criminalized acts such as public intoxication, “breaching the peace”, or lingering in specific areas, passing laws that govern these misdemeanor crimes. Frequently, statutes serve as general provisions to cover a wide range of offensive or disorderly behaviors, making it possible for various forms of bothersome or disruptive conduct to fall under their ambit. The definition of disorderly conduct is not uniform across all the states in America. For example, in New York, the intention of causing disturbance, displeasure to the public, or impetuously creating such a danger are some of the important elements for constituting offenses related to disorderly conduct. 

Misdemeanors such as making noise without any valid reason, blocking traffic, and using offensive or derogatory language in public spaces are all punishable in New York. In the state of Texas, a prosecuting attorney must prove beyond reasonable doubt the intention of the defendant to commit misdemeanor crimes. Therefore, if a respondent is able to establish that the conduct carried out by him was not intentional or that he did not have the knowledge that it had breached the peace, he will not be held liable for the crime. Just like the definition, even the penalties for disorderly conduct differ from state to state depending on the specific characteristics of the conduct. For negligible infractions, a law enforcement officer might opt to issue a citation, impelling the individual to pay a fine, similar to a traffic violation ticket. For severe disorderly conduct, the law enforcement officer can arrest a person in a local jail and can only be released on bail for instance in Florida a majority of disorderly infractions are labeled as misdemeanors, but provoking or instigating a riot has the potential to be charged as a felony. 

StatesRelevant Code or Case Laws
California codes/california/2011/pen/part-1/639-653.2/647
Michigan statute/michigan-compiled-laws/chapter-750-michigan-penal-code
New Hampshirecodes/new-hampshire/2015/title-lxii/chapter-644/section-644-2
New Jerseycodes/new-jersey/2009/title-2c/2c-33/2c-33-2
New Mexico codes/new-mexico/2011/chapter30/article20
New York codes/new-york/2015/pen/part-3/title-n/article-240
North Carolina codes/north-carolina/2005/chapter_14/gs_14-288.4
North Dakota north-dakota-century-code/title-121-criminal-code/chapter-121-31
Oklahoma codes/oklahoma/2022/title-21/section-21-1362
Rhode Island
South Carolina codes/south-carolina/2022/title-16/chapter-17/section-16-17-530/
South Dakota
Vermont codes/vermont/2012/title13/chapter19/section1026
Washington codes/washington/2005/title9a/9a.84.030.html
West Virginia statute/west-virginia-code/chapter-61
Wyoming codes/wyoming/2022/title-6/chapter-6/article-1/section-6-6-102/

Important case laws 

Kolender v. Lawson (1983)

In the case of Kolender vs Lawson 461 U.S. 352 (1983), Mr. Lawson a black man by origin, was a law-abiding citizen with an aberrant conduct (he wore his hair in long, matted cornrows). Lawson was frequently subjected to police interrogation and persecution, especially when he walked in localities inhabited mostly by white residents. Lawson challenged the constitutional validity of the controversial law (Penal Code 647(e) deals with the act of “squatting,” or “unlawful lodging”) in California, that demanded individuals who lingered or prowled on the streets to provide attested and valid identification, and to make themselves present whenever requested by a peace officer in the state of California. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit declared the law to be illegitimate and ambiguous, granting excessive power to the law enforcement department (without sufficient reason to make an arrest) regarding whether to detain or question a suspect or set them free. Furthermore, the majority of the jury was of the opinion that the legislation jeopardized the constitutional right to freedom of movement and association.

City of Chicago v. Morales (1999)

In the case of City of Chicago v. Morales, 527 U.S. 41 (1999), the US Supreme Court ruled that the “gang loitering” ordinance, which was passed to regulate street gangs involved in selling controlled substances, was unlawful and needed to be struck down. According to the ordinance, when a police officer sees an individual whom they have a reasonable belief to be a gang member lingering in a public area with one or more people, the officer is required to instruct them to disperse. Failure to promptly follow this directive constitutes a violation of the ordinance that was held to be ambiguous. The ordinance aims to restrict individuals whom the police or the law enforcement department presumes to be associated with a criminal street gang from lingering or prowling in public areas with one or more persons. The judgment plays a crucial role, enabling the courts to examine ordinances that contravene the due process of law and potentially the right to freedom of association.

Lawrence v. Texas (2003)

Lawrence v. Texas (2003) a landmark judgment in American legal history, with a majority vote of 6-3 resulting in a decision that repealed all existing sodomy laws in the states, making the country’s obsolete and chiefly unenforceable prohibitions on homosexual activities unconstitutional. In the year 2003, the Supreme Court made a judicial pronouncement clarifying that the voluntary consenting of adults to intimate conduct is a fundamental right and is constitutionally protected under the Constitution’s due process clauses. Lawrence v. Texas (2003) is related to the concept of “crime against the public” in the USA in the context of privacy and personal liberties. In this case, the crime against the public order involved the enforcement of state sodomy laws, which criminalized certain sexual activities between consenting adults, particularly homosexual acts. The case challenged the constitutionality of such laws and had a significant impact on the legal landscape. By doing so, it eliminated a category of laws that were considered invasive and discriminatory, effectively repealing them. This decision was a significant step in safeguarding the rights and privacy of individuals, particularly those in the LGBTQ+ community, by preventing their criminalization for consensual, private sexual conduct.

Desroziers v. District of Columbia (2011)

In Desroziers v. District of Columbia, 19 A.3d 796, 797 (D.C. 2011), the case is related to the violation of Possession of Open Container of Alcohol laws (POCA), wherein it was held that in cases where the presence of circumstantial evidence was established, indicating that the accused was under the influence of alcohol and emitted a noticeable alcohol odor and that the law enforcement department was capable of identifying the distinct smell of vodka within a glass jar before emptying it, was deemed sufficient to support a verdict. There was no requirement for the authorities to directly analyze the substance to confirm the presence of alcohol. This implies that the prosecution doesn’t actually need to demonstrate the presence of an alcoholic beverage in the container in question under the Possession of Open Container of Alcohol laws. 

Workman v. United States (2014)

In Workman v. United States, 96 A.3d 678, 681 (D.C. 2014), the case is related to the open container laws in Washington D.C. wherein it was held that a mere tag on a bottle was not conclusive enough to prove the presence of alcohol in a beverage. According to the D.C. Court of Appeals, “although the tag on the bottle displayed the alcohol content as 40%, it lacks conclusive proof, as well as any other evidence, that the fluid confiscated by the police in an open container was actually tequila indicated on the tag or any other probable liquor.”

Furthermore, none of the officers from the law enforcement department were able to attest that the substance found in the tequila bottle smelled or tasted like liquor. They also couldn’t find any cups, vessels, or other alcoholic beverages. Most importantly, there wasn’t enough evidence to prove that Mr. Workman had been intoxicated or appeared intoxicated.


Crimes against public order in the USA encompass a range of offenses that target behaviors or activities perceived as disruptive to the general well-being of society. These offenses, which may include disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct, and other public disturbances, are aimed at maintaining the peace, safety, and harmony within communities. The legal framework for these crimes can vary from state to state, and they often involve a balance between individual rights and the broader interests of public safety. Overall, crimes against public order highlight the importance of preserving the collective welfare and stability of society while respecting individual liberties. However, criminalizing morality poses challenges, as it involves legislating and enforcing laws rooted in subjective moral or cultural beliefs. This can lead to controversies over individual rights and privacy, especially in cases where consensual, private actions are criminalized. Striking the right balance between preserving public order and respecting personal autonomy remains a complex and evolving challenge in the American legal system.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What do we mean by “public order”?

Public order pertains to a state or atmosphere characterized by the absence of extensive criminal and political turmoil, including activities such as kidnappings, homicides, riots, illegal gatherings, arson, and threats directed at specific groups or individuals.

What is a “public area”?

Public areas include any street, alley, park, sidewalk or parking area; any vehicle in such an area; and any private place to which the public is invited that is not licensed to sell alcoholic beverages.  An exception would be on the sidewalk of a restaurant or bar that has a liquor permit. You are also allowed to possess alcohol on a front porch, terrace, bay window provided that the structure is an “integral” part of a private residence.

What are Open Container Laws?

The open container laws make it illegal for an individual to possess an open container of alcohol without a valid licence within a vehicle. These laws usually concern areas of the car that people can easily reach. For instance, having open containers in the trunk or in the back of an SUV without a separate trunk is generally allowed and doesn’t break the rules. 

What is an Open Container?

Cans, bottles, flasks, any other possible container holding alcohol, containers holding marijuana are all encompassed under the definition of an “Open Container”. Some of the states explicitly define what it means for a container to be called as an “open container”. In most cases, a container is considered to be open if: some of the contents inside it has been removed or consumed, the seal/packaging is open, the cap of the container is missing making alcohol readily accessible.



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